Joan Bradford: Mother’s run my life long enough! I’m 21, I’m white, and I’ve a right to be free!
Henry Bradford: What are you going to do about it… sit here and mope?
—Happiness Ahead (1934)
Among the many popular early musicals distributed by Warner Brothers, Happiness Ahead (1934) is one such film that is not discussed as often. While many are familiar with the Gold Digger series, typically featuring a crooning Dick Powell and toe-tapping Ruby Keeler, Happiness Ahead takes the Gold Diggers tale–specifically, Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)–and reverses it to show of the talents in the studio’s usual stock of musical players. Though Powell appears in this film along with many other familiar faces, such as Frank McHugh and Dorothy Dare, he is uncharacteristically partnered with Josephine Hutchinson instead of Keeler. Despite this switch in the object of his affections, the film is still a delightful romp through comedy and social structure.
Happiness Ahead tells the story of wealthy socialite Joan Bradford who is disenchanted with her high society life. After confiding in her father, she escapes from a New Year’s Eve party during which her engagement is supposed to be announced and instead finds herself at a Chinese restaurant. While there, she meets Bob Lane, who works for a window washing company, and takes a liking to him. Instead of revealing her true identity, she indulges in a masquerade and pretends to be poor, fearing that her new friends would otherwise view her differently. Joan and Bob begin dating and dream of marrying as soon as Bob can start his own company. When Bob spots Joan collecting her allowance from her father, he assumes the worst and chaos and comedy ensue.
The film was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and produced by First National Pictures. Released on October 27, 1934, the film was written by Brian Marlow and Harry Sauber. The cast list includes:
- Dick Powell as Bob Lane
- Josephine Hutchinson as Joan Bradford
- John Halliday as Henry Bradford
- Frank McHugh as Tom
- Allen Jenkins as Chuck
- Ruth Donnelly as Anna
- Dorothy Dare as Josie
- George Chandler as Window Washer
During production, the film’s working title was Gentlemen Are Born, though it was scrapped and used for another 1934 Warner Brothers film. Powell croons the title number as the film opens, launching the audience into delicious 1930s escapism. Within the film, Powell also serenades viewers with “Pop! Goes Your Heart,” “On Account of an Ice Cream Sundae,” and “Massaging Window Panes.”
This film also happens to be Hutchinson’s film debut. Though she would go on to appear in other films, it is curious as to why she did not appear in more that were similar to Happiness Ahead. She is wonderful in this easygoing role and is a charming, understated counterpart to Powell’s character.
Fans of 1930s musical and the Gold Digger series are sure to enjoy this sweet film.
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